The craft of poetry with Seamus Heaney

Poetry’s magic gone wild.
By Alicia Anstead, editor-in-chief | Published: February 29, 2016


ireland seamus heaneyShortly after I returned from Ireland a few years ago, I encountered Seamus Heaney’s poem “Postscript.” The landscape he describes – “out west” – in County Clare had captivated me with its craggy rocks and rolling hills. It was (and still is) resonant in my imagination. Heaney’s poem caused a major take-me-back moment (in spirit of Irish crooner Van Morrison).

Just as Heaney brings the location to life, he quickly and disconcertingly tosses forward this important line:

Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly.

And that’s where the poetry’s magic goes wild. First, he has captured the “foam and glitter” with language. And then he disabuses the reader of the accuracy of that description. Then he goes existential:

You are neither here nor there.

What happens to the reader in “Postscript” is nothing short of miraculous. Heaney’s truth about physical observations and about ephemeral experience is so neatly and rhythmically packaged that it contains multitudes.

I recommend making the time to read this small poem.

In the meantime, you can learn so much about crafting poetry through the lens of top-notch poets featured in this issue of The Writer. April is National Poetry Month, after all, and we want to provide you with provocative insights and tips from some of the most compelling poets we could find.

Remarkably, Winnie Holzman, creator of the hit, if brief, TV series My So-Called Life, came to her work through poetry, and you can find out how in our interview here. Even if you aren’t into poetry, the advice you will find in the April 2016 issue is broadly applicable to whatever writing you practice. We believe you will enjoy and find instruction in the material we have gathered for you.

After all, you never know when a story or a poem is going to “catch the heart off guard and blow it open.” That’s Heaney again. Drop everything and go read his poem.

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Alicia Anstead
Editor-in-Chief